or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 4/1/12

   April 7th, 2012

Sleep modeOne night this week, a father brought his eight year old daughter to the desk, along with her new laptop and Nook Touch, and asked that I show her how to download ebooks. This was, hands down, the most interesting ebook instruction I've ever given.

Happily, everything went smoothly - usually the biggest hurdle is actually finding an ebook the patron is interested in downloading, but in this case, there were quite a few kids books that caught her eye (she struggled to decide between Junie B. Jones Has a Peep in Her Pocket and Barbie and the Three Musketeers).

We checked out and downloaded one, but when it came time to transfer it to the Nook, the father realized that he had left the Nook's cable out in the car. The daughter stayed at the desk with me while he ran out to get in. While we were waiting, I asked the girl if she had any homework to do that night.

She said she had expanding math to do, which they were just learning and she really didn't understand. I told her I had never heard of "expanding math" before (which was true), and asked her if she could show me. We got some scrap paper and a pencil, and the practice problem she came up with was 104 - 57. She explained it as she worked it out, and when she was finished the paper looked something like this:

104 = 10090 + 0 + 14    
- 57 = 0 + 50 + 7    

    90 + 0 + 7    
        40 + 7 = 47

This seemed slightly over-complicated, but I was able to follow her, and she actually explained it quite well. I had just never heard it called "expanding math," I guess. But when her father came back, his reaction made me laugh. He just stared at the paper, and commented that he's never seen her doing homework like that.

Anyway, cable in hand, we were back to ebooks. We plugged in the Nook, transferred the ebook with no problem, and they were delighted to see the text and pictures on the Nook's color screen. They went through the whole process again, this time downloading Go, Dog. Go! for her little brother, and again, everything worked smoothly.

The dad reminded the girl that she had homework, and said it was time to go. He started putting the Nook away, and told her to pack up the laptop. When she clicked Start > Shut Down, I overheard this exchange:

Father: Oh, you don't need to shut it all the way down, just put it to sleep.
Daughter: I don't like putting it to sleep.
Father: Why not?
Daughter: [leaning over and whispering] Sometimes it has bad dreams.

Again, a puzzled look on the dad's face, but mixed with a little humor, because it was a random and funny comment.

After they finished packing everything up, the only thing left on the desk was the scrap paper with the girl's math problem on it. The dad picked it up to take with him, saying,

Father: Come on, it's time for you to teach me how to do your homework.

And they walked away from the reference desk holding each other's hand.

All in all, this was one of the most ridiculously saccharin slice-of-family-life scenes I have witnessed at the library. The bad dreams comment kind of bothered me, but hopefully they will bond while doing her homework together.

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9 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 4/1/12”

  1. Cari Says:

    That’s really cute! I don’t really understand the expanding math either, though!

  2. Liam Hegarty Says:

    I’m curious, how did you download the book onto the nook from a library computer? I thought you needed a unique adobe id and had to synch that to a specific computer. Do you use Overdrive?

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Cari: I don’t think I have it totally correct, but I kind of get the principle. I guess this is the “new” new math.

    @Liam: We do have Overdrive, but we were using the laptop they brought with them. Something I didn’t know until this experience is that you still need a computer even when using a Nook Color. I thought, since it’s much like a tablet computer, we could just use Overdrive’s mobile site and download right to the Nook, but no – we still needed to first download to their computer and then transfer it with a cable. That’s an advantage the iPad and Kindle have over the Nook.

  4. Thomas Says:

    That math problem seems like a lot of steps.

    The Nook dreams comment made me think of Philip K. Dick’s story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

  5. amac Says:

    Great post… they do make the math more complicated than it needs to be.
    Question: do you ever think Barnes and Noble will get with the program and get on the APP wagon? It is so much easier and smoother than having to connect and drag…not too mention teaching!
    Love your blog..

  6. Shane Says:

    Sounds like a perfectly normal father-daughter exchange to me :)

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @amac: I don’t know. Anything having to do with DRM and licensing seems, much like math, more difficult than it should be. But since Apple and Amazon can handle it, I would think Barnes and Noble could too. And thanks for the comment – I appreciate you reading.

    @Shane: it did, it was just funny to watch. Also, interestingly, the girl was eight, the dad looked over sixty.

  8. Rosemary Says:

    I had a friend run into the math issue with her daughter. She kept trying to explain the concept of borrowing and her daughter didn’t have a clue what she was talking about since they were teaching them this method at school.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Rosemary: I remember my parents talking about the “new math” I was being taught in school when I was young – maybe changing it up every generation is just job security for teachers?